Pyongyang might be preparing for more than one nuke test
North Korea appears to be preparing for more than one nuclear test by rebuilding two tunnels at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, according to satellite imagery analysis released by a U.S.-based analysis site on Wednesday.
Satellite imagery taken on Tuesday showed new construction activity near tunnel no. 4 at the site in Kilju in North Hamgyong province, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
The report said the construction work at tunnel no. 4 "strongly suggests an effort to reenable it for potential future testing.”
Some of the new structures built at the site include a new retaining wall still under construction. Construction materials were seen near the entrance to the tunnel.
Previous reports focused on tunnel no. 3, which has been under construction for several months.
The report also noted that activities at tunnel no. 3, which began about four months ago, “are apparently now complete and ready for an oft-speculated seventh nuclear test.”
Neither tunnels no. 3 or no. 4 have yet been used for a nuclear test.
Beyond Parallel said the most recent images also showed the construction of new buildings or modifications to existing buildings in the site’s administration area, which may suggest "an effort to further reenable the facility” for future testing.
The U.S. think tank’s report came after Park Jin, Seoul’s foreign minister, noted that the North appeared to have completed all preparations for its seventh nuclear test and that only a “political decision remained” before Pyongyang conducts a test.
The country conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017, before announcing a moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile testing in 2018, which now appears effectively scrapped.
Pyongyang has conducted 18 missile tests so far this year, and South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials have warned in recent months that the regime is prepared for a nuclear weapons test.
One goal that the regime has in mind with a nuclear test is to check its progress in miniaturizing a tactical nuclear warhead to fit atop a ballistic missile, a task that was included as a key item on the agenda of the North’s most recent five-year national plan in January 2021.
North Korea demolished the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in May 2018 in the presence of reporters from South Korea, China, Russia, Britain and the United States.
The demolition of the nuclear testing site was seen as a show of sincerity about denuclearization as North Korea planned for the first summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which took place in June 2018.
Tunnel no. 1 was used for the North’s first nuclear test in 2006, while tunnel no. 2 was used for the five subsequent tests.
According to Beyond Parallel, current satellite images show no signs of activity at collapsed tunnels no. 1 and no. 2. The report’s image analysis shows abandoned tunnel spoil piles near both abandoned tunnels.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]